Politico Playbook Puts WaPo’s Ass on Blast

In Politico Playbook today, Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen took stabs at what he clearly viewed to be an aging and achingly familiar lede in WaPo‘s story regarding “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

From Playbook:

SOUND FAMILIAR? Lead sentence of lead story of today’s WashPost: “The contours of a deal to avert the year-end ‘fiscal cliff’ are becoming increasingly clear.”

–FLASHBACK – POLITICO lead story, Nov. 29: “[T]he contours of a deal – including the size of tax hikes and spending cuts it will most likely contain – are starting to take shape.”

The stories in question are this one by Allen and Executive Editor Jim VandeHei and this one by WaPo‘s Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane. Both pieces address the inner workings of Congress on a deal to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts. (The awkward factor here is medium high: VandeHei and Kane both previously worked at Roll Call. Notes Kane: “We are good friends as our Mike and I.”)

Asked about the similarity of language in both stories, FishbowlDC received a response from Kane that could only be described as touchy… “What exactly are you asking?” he said. “Please be more clear in your questioning. The phrase ‘contours of a deal’ couldn’t be more common.”

So we re-asked: “Did the phrasing come out similar by pure coincidence here and were you aware before publication of Politico‘s story that it used the same phrasing?”

Kane’s response: “No, I don’t recall that story, not sure if Lori does or does not. If you’re going to accuse us of plagiarism based on one phrase — contours of a deal — come out and say it. If you plan to go further in making that accusation, talk to our editors. Before you do that, please know that it is about the single most common phrase one can use in dealing with prolonged, protracted negotiations, whether they are of political or diplomatic in nature. A simple Google search of ‘contours of a deal negotiations’ yields 5.3 million results in 0.34 seconds.”

For the record, FBDC didn’t “accuse” Kane or Montgomery of plagiarism. We were asking for a response to an item in Politico that drew parallels between the phraseology found in two similar stories.

Montgomery said she “wrote that lead in about five minutes last night after editors rejected the first one.” She said it was her editor, in fact, who proposed the language used in the final edition of the story.

In line with Kane, she threw in some sass. “Now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure the phrase ‘time is running out’ has appeared somewhere at some point. Maybe we should track that one down, too.”

Kane, still convinced we were making an accusation we weren’t, also drew our attention to a LAT article. It was actually published before Politico‘s and on the same subject, using roughly the same language. “If you’re accusing us of plagiarizing Mike Allen, then you need to fully accuse Mike of plagiarizing the Tribune DC bureau report from Nov. 17,” Kane said.

The LAT story contains the following:

“[T]he contours of a two-part deal are taking shape as leaders work to avert the year-end fiscal crisis — and the gridlock that has soured voters on Washington.”

We’ve reached out to Allen for comment on whether this sounds familiar.

Correction: VandeHei and Kane did not work at Roll Call at the same time as noted earlier.